The removal of support material from metal 3D printed objects is a laborious necessity for the post-processing of powder bed fusion printing (PBF). Supports are typically mechanically removed by machining techniques. Sacrificial supports are necessary in PBF printing to relieve thermal stresses and support overhanging parts often resulting in the inclusion of supports in regions of the part that are not easily accessed by mechanical removal methods. Recent innovations in PBF support removal include dissolvable metal supports through an electrochemical etching process. Dissolvable PBF supports have the potential to significantly reduce the costs and time associated with traditional support removal. However, the speed and effectiveness of this approach is inhibited by numerous factors such as support geometry and metal powder entrapment within supports. To fully realize this innovative approach, it is necessary to model and understand the design parameters necessary to optimize support structures applicable to an electrochemical etching process. The objective of this study was to evaluate the impact of block additive manufacturing support parameters on key process outcomes of the dissolution of 316 stainless steel support structures. The parameters investigated included hatch spacing and perforation, and the outcomes of interests included time required for completion, surface roughness, and effectiveness of the etching process. Electrical current was also evaluated as an indicator of process completion. Analysis of the electrical current throughout the etching process showed that the dissolution is diffusion limited to varying degrees, and is dependent on support structure parameters. Activation and passivation behavior was observed during current leveling, and appeared to be more pronounced in non-perforated samples with less dense hatch spacing. The correlation between electrical current and completion of the etching process was unclear, as the support structures became mechanically removable well before the current leveled. The etching process was shown to improve surface finish on unsupported surfaces, but support was shown to negatively impact surface finish. Tighter hatch spacing was shown to correlate to larger variation in surface finish, due to ridges left behind by the support structures. In future studies, it is recommended current be more closely correlated to process completion and more roughness data be collected to identify a trend between hatch spacing and surface roughness.
- An Examination of the Impact of Support Design on 316 Stainless Steel Supports